- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 3, 2002

After a 14-year celluloid hiatus, Elvira's back (and front and center) in Elvira's Haunted Hills, out this week via Goodtimes Entertainment. It's our

Video pick of the week

A broad, bouncy period horror-film spoof, "Elvira's Haunted Hills" ($19.98 DVD/$14.98 VHS) arrives as a fun pre-Halloween treat for fans of comedian Cassandra Peterson's buxom creation, sort of a Goth Valley Girl meets Mae West by way of Vampira.

The pic casts our slinky, black-clad, wisecracking heroine as a Paris-bound showgirl stranded, with corpulent assistant Zou Zou (Mary Jo Smith), in 1851 Carpathia. The two soon find their way to the dreaded Castle Helsebus, where intrigues both earthly and supernatural abound, very much in the tradition of Roger Corman's pulpy 1960s Edgar Allan Poe films.

After a somewhat stumbling start, the movie picks up steam once Miss Peterson and longtime writing partner John Paragon, abetted by Sam ("Oblivion") Irvin's genre-savvy direction and Radu Corciova's dead-on production design, jettison the cleavage jokes (well, most of them anyhow) in favor of clever fright-film parody. "Rocky Horror Picture Show" alum Richard O'Brien (who played Riff-Raff in that flick) goes entertainingly over the top as loony, light-sensitive Vladimere Helsebus, modeled after Vincent Price's Roderick Usher in 1960's "Fall of the House of Usher," who becomes convinced that Elvira represents the return of his murdered spouse Elura (also portrayed by Miss Peterson).

The leads receive considerable assistance from able comic supporting players, especially hunky, Fabio-styled stable boy Adrian (Gavi Andronache), whose lips and badly synched dialogue never close within shouting distance. And, unlike Elvira herself, the film is not front-loaded (a common curse in movie parodies): Mr. Irvin, Miss Peterson and crew conclude on a high note with a frenzied send-up of Mr. Corman's "The Pit and the Pendulum," which includes an impossibly huge dungeon set, elaborate torture devices and all manner of ghastly last-minute revelations. "Elvira's Haunted Hills," which received a limited recent theatrical release, should find considerable support on home video.

Fear forecast

Elsewhere on the horror horizon, the arachnid-attack outing Eight-Legged Freaks (Warner Home Video), starring David Arquette, Kari Wuhrer and hordes of CGI spiders, arrives just in time for the Halloween season.

Fright-film fans will have to wait until November and December, respectively, for the futuristic giant-dragon derby Reign of Fire (Touchstone Home Entertainment), with Matthew McConaughey and Christian Bale; and the scare sequel Halloween: Resurrection (Dimension), featuring rapper Busta Rhymes and a cameo by original "Halloween" scream queen Jamie Lee Curtis.

All three titles will be priced for rental VHS and also available on DVD.

Tele-video

In small-screen developments, HBO Video announces an early November launch for its hit Tom Hanks- and Steven Spielberg-produced World War II series Band of Brothers. All 10 episodes plus the feature-length documentary We Stand Alone Together: The Men of Easy Company are included in both the 6-DVD ($119.99) and 6-VHS ($109.99) sets. The DVD set comes with bonus material, including historical material and behind-the-scenes documentaries.

Elsewhere, Bob Hoskins, Peter Falk and James Fox star in the four-hour mini-series version of Arthur Conan Doyle's novel The Lost World ($39.95 2-DVD set), with more than two hours of bonus material. James Caan, Lukas Haas, Lisa Bonet and David Strathairn share starring honors in the Ursula K. Le Guin tele-movie adaptation Lathe of Heaven ($19.95 DVD/VHS). Both are new from A&E Home Video. The same label presents Shaka Zulu: The Complete Mini-Series in a lavish 4-DVD set later this month.

Collectors' corner

Returning to the silver screen, Artisan Entertainment extends the gala DVD treatment to a trio of towering 1950s films. Gary Cooper strides anew in a remastered High Noon, director Fred Zinneman and writer Carl Foreman's 1952 Western great, co-starring Grace Kelly. The Duke lives again in the John Ford and John Wayne triumphs Rio Grande and The Quiet Man; the latter titles include audio commentary by co-star Maureen O'Hara. The DVDs, due later this month, will be tagged at $19.98 each.

Phan mail

Dear Phantom: I'm looking for La Belle Americaine, a French film I saw around 1962 about a Cadillac car, which is hilariously funny, and Sid Caesar TV episodes, with and without Imogene Coca.

S. Fred Singer, Arlington, Va.

No luck with "La Belle Americaine," which has yet to land a home-video release. Movies Unlimited (800/4-MOVIES, www.moviesunlimited.com) offers a wide and varied selection of vintage Sid Caesar TV titles, available in both VHS and DVD formats.


Send your video comments and queries to Phantom of the Movies, The Washington Times, 3600 New York Ave. NE, Washington, DC, 20002 or e-mail us at: phanmedia@aol.com. Check out our Web site at www.videoscopemag.com.

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